Third Sunday in Lent
March 19, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Sir William Golding’s 1954 novel, The Lord of the Flies was a study of human nature. A group of shipwrecked boys are left alone on a deserted tropical island, and they try to organize themselves for survival and rescue—even forming their own kind of government—but soon devolve into savagery and murder.
As the boys spiral into more cruelty, a rumor begins of a beast haunting the island, which they believe has come up out of the water. Soon, one of the boys catches a wild pig and they put its head on a stake, claiming they’ve caught the beast. The beast is really a metaphor for the behavior of the boys, and the image of the fly-ridden pig’s head is a vivid picture of human nature. Hence the name, The Lord of the Flies.
Lord of flies is the literal translation of the name Beelzebub, which is a close relative of Beelzebul. When Jesus casts out a demon from a mute man, some of the onlookers accuse Him, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, He is casting out demons” (v 15).
The crowd knows they are witnessing a spiritual battle, an unconventional war. It’s a supernatural struggle, but some of them confuse the power of Christ with the power of demons. Baal. Baal was the name for a variety of false gods of fertility in the ancient near East. Beelzebub was the Baal of the flies; Beelzebul was the prince of Baals.
There is an important thing to learn from the onlookers—even though they misidentify the power of Jesus. It’s that false idols and false theologies are not empty, hollow figments of man’s overactive imagination—like the beast in Lord of the Flies. Behind every false idol, behind every false theology is the power of the prince of demons.
Modern philosophy considers man’s natural state to be a blank slate—morally neutral, all behaviors a product of prior experience and learning. But Scripture paints a different picture of man. He was created holy, right with God, oriented to life. Not neutral. But man switch polarities. Not holy, but profane. Not right with God, but an enemy of God. Not oriented to life, but oriented to death. Still not neutral.
The cause of this spiritual reversal was the prince of demons. Jesus identifies him as satan. The adversary. The one who is against God and His good creation. He is the power behind Beelzebul, Beelzebub, and all the Baals of the ancient world. And he is the one who arrays a variety of false gods and lords and baals before you as a defense against invasion from the kingdom of God.
Behind every false theology is a false god, and behind every false god is the prince of demons. But He, having known their intentions, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is desolated, and a household upon a household falls. And also if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say that by Beelzebul I am casting out demons. And if by Beelzebul I am casting out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges (vv 17-19).
If Jesus is casting out satan by the power of a false god, then that’s like saying satan is casting out satan. But we know that a kingdom set against itself can’t stand long. No, satan is much too clever for that. He knows that supernatural demonic possession is only one of his weapons in this spiritual war—and one that doesn’t work too well nowadays. After all, you see how terribly easy it is for Jesus to cast out a demon. It only takes one little word.
Satan’s more effective possession is to possess people with false doctrine. He twists Jesus’ words just enough to retain their Christian flavor, but they lead you off into false imaginations. You might be on guard against temptation in the moral domain, but satan’s biggest victories happen in the realm of theology. He captivates with false narratives, or even more insidious, he convinces you that the only truth is your own opinion and that everyone who differs from you is a heretic. You convince yourself that since you’re a Christian you only think Christian thoughts, and so everyone else who thinks differently is false. So he divides and divides and divides until at last you become a church of one.
Satan knows and understands Jesus’ words better than we do. He knows that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Which is why he has worked so hard over the centuries to divide God’s kingdom. A dash of false doctrine here; a little tweak of theology there. And we think that we can overcome satan’s malicious schemes by simply focusing on what we have in common and ignoring what we don’t, but celebrating unity when what he’s created is disunity.
False doctrine is satan’s chief defense against the intrusion of the kingdom of God. It’s his weapon; it’s his armor. But it would be a mistake to think that this spiritual battle is evenly weighted, that it’s a struggle of equal but opposite forces, that it’s some Manichean cosmic dualism of good vs. evil.
No. The devil is strong, but the Lord Jesus Christ is stronger. His is a different kind of strength, a peculiar strength that breaks down satan’s defenses—whether they be supernatural possession or the intrusion of false doctrine. When a strong man has been fully armed, that he may guard his own palace, his possessions are in peace. But if a stronger man than he comes up that he may conquer him, he takes away his complete armor from him in which he had trusted, and divides his spoils (vv 21-22).
The Stronger Man Is the One Who Conquered the Strength of Satan by Pouring Out His Soul to Death
Satan is a strong man, fully armed. But Christ is the stronger Man, the One who was born of a virgin unlike any other man. He was the One who came to conquer in the spiritual battle, to strip away satan’s weapons and armor and to divide the spoils. Isaiah wrote of Him. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors (Is 53:12).
The strength of our Strong Man is the strength to suffer. Anyone can fight back when he is attacked and treated shamefully, and a strong man might even pound his false accusers into submission like an MMA champ. But it takes a special kind of strength to suffer attacks and endure shame. To serve by suffering.
Jesus’ defeated His adversary and yours by allowing all the fiery darts to land in His flesh, to pierce His skin. He consented to the stripes from a cruel whip, the thorn’s pierce. All this He did while bearing the sins of many—including yours. Satan attacked Jesus with more malice than anyone before or since, but his attack became his own undoing. He became a kingdom divided against himself. Because every lash, every prick, every bruise, Jesus suffered in your place. Satan’s kingdom is desolated under the cross.
Jesus did not suffer and atone for your sins so that you would live an independent life. He purchased and won you, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death, so that you might be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. What wondrous love is this, that Jesus would pour His soul out to death in order to claim you as His spoils of victory?
And He calls you into a community that you would never choose for yourself. He brings you together with fellow sinners whose sins have been born by the sinless Son of God. No longer are we shipwrecked captives under the reign of the lord of the flies, but we are incorporated into the story of the Lord of life, and brought under His reign.
The kingdom of God is advancing on the kingdom of the adversary. The Finger of God—that is, His Spirit—squishes the prince of demons as if he were only a lord of flies. And if by the Finger of God I am casting out demons, then the kingdom of God has come among you” (v 20). How do we know that the Finger of God is among us? Because we have the Holy Spirit, the gift given with water and the Word.
When an unclean spirit is cast out, he goes to waterless places. But the place that is flooded with Holy Baptism, the unclean spirit cannot endure. The font is your defense against satan redoubling his attacks on you. Your armor is a watery armor, reinforced with God’s Word and promise of Absolution. The kingdom of God advances by water and the Spirit, and is guarded by His Word and promise. They are your sword and shield. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and guard it (v 28).
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard